Chicon 7: Opening Ceremonies

Chicon 7’s Opening Ceremonies on Thursday afternoon began with a four-piece guitar band silhouetted against a lavender-lit backdrop. Then bright spots illuminated the stage, set with a desk and black sofas in talk-show format. The band cranked up and its leader belted out a raucous Chicon lyric. At the end John Scalzi emerged from the wings to play our genial host, the drum machine player matching his triumphant jabs with what Scalzi called “punchy sounds.”

Scalzi preened over his stylish new jacket — “Paul Ryan casual” he said, then promised that would be his last political joke, and it was. He tied his monologue together with references to his being a Worldcon newbie, his first having been in 2003, which worked surprisingly well when you consider he’s in his second term as SFWA president and often writes online as a kind of voice of elder wisdom.

Erle Korshak was the first to be interviewed once Scalzi moved behind the desk. Korshak co-chaired the original Chicon in 1940 and he paid tribute to its other leaders, his co-chair Mark Reinsberg and the treasurer Wilson Tucker. Asked how many people came to that con Korshak said 129, and Scalzi gestured to the front of the Grand Ballroom, “About the first two rows here.” Yes, we’ve grown.

Mike Resnick, author GoH, followed Korshak. He squinted up at the lights and told about his time on that stage in 1991 presiding over the masquerade, unable to read his notes or see directions through the glare. The stage manager was reduced to giving him signals by rubbing his leg. Scalzi reached over and stroked Mike’s leg in a dramatic interpretation which, if captured on video, will doubtless be up for a Hugo next year. The pair also plugged Resnick’s story collection Win Some, Lose Some, released by the fannish ISFiC Press for sale at the con.

Rowena Morrill’s sister, Kathy, aquainted us with the artist GoH, who was missing the con to recover from health problems. She delved into family memories about Rowena as the creative instigator of family plays, and shared that her sister actually was preparing to be a classical pianist before she took an art class and discovered something that fired her interests even more.

Artist Agent GoH Jane Frank told how she and her husband carried out the vision of creating a Victoran room in their modern house and filled it with specially commissioned art showing their favorite elements from the stories of H. Rider Haggard.

Scalzi introduced Fan GoH Peggy Rae Pavlat with copious praise for her work coordinating the two most recent Nebula Weekends. She closed with the story of how her father, Jack McKnight, made the first Hugo Awards on a machine at home after a whole series of other plans came to nought, missing most of the 1953 Worldcon to do so, and ever after referring to them as “those goddamned Hugo Awards.”

Former NASA flight controller Sy Liebergot, a special guest, was introduced as the man who didn’t go to the Moon but made sure others did. He rhetorically answered one interview prompt, “How did we do it? We had a bunch of smart guys who could think straight. We don’t have that now.” There was applause, though Scalzi’s expression matched the sourness of the remark.

Hugo base designer Deb Kosiba instituted what I hope will be the new tradition, unveiling the base on the first day rather than waiting until the Hugo reception. She described her effort as drawing upon the local traditions of architects Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe, and artist Pablo Picasso.

Chicon 7 chair Dave McCarty bantered with Scalzi, bringing the ceremonies to a close. He praised his leadership team, the Flying Monkees, and the 500 people on staff. And he reminded us that astronaut Story Musgrave, another GoH, would be with us on Saturday and Sunday.

Scalzi had a great handle on the event. That comes as no surprise but it particularly interested me to see him gage his approach to get the best from each person, in contrast to many actual TV hosts who force guests to play off them. He joked at the beginning about a part being “all about me” in the spirit of such host, then, in fact turned in a deft and inclusive performance.

Training for Worldcon Pt. 2

St. Louis fan John Novak took the train to Chicon, arrivng in the wee hours after many delays, not the least of which happened when the train plowed through a truck at a crossing. John says the two guys in the truck jumped clear, there were no fatalities.

Lisa Harrigan was aboard the California-to-Chicon train. Her most challenging experiences happened after the train arrived in Chicago, trying to get the staff to help move her husband, and retrieving baggage that had been locked away while she was solving the first problem.

I hope to hear about the onboard BASFA meeting later on.

Stuff That Was Once Cool

While revisiting fanhistory for my Worldcon panels I began remembering some of the cool fannish things I once wished to own. Some of them I acquired. Some are still cool. One is still cool and available.

The Acoustic Modem

Plenty of fans in the 1970s were engineers, programmers and science grads with legitimate access to the ARPANET, the early computer network and forerunner of the internet. LASFS party hosts with accounts, of course, appreciated that the highest and best use of the system was calling into M.I.T. to let their guests play Zork.

Connecting to the net involved placing a regular phone receiver in the cradle of an acoustic coupler modem linked to the home PC. Those early modems were as big as a combat boot – the one my friends had must have been even bigger than the one in the picture, still, you get the idea.

It would have been heavenly — for some values of heaven — being able to call in and play Zork for endless hours with no other fans waiting breathlessly beside me for their turns. However, they soon clamped down on access to ARPANET accounts, and I could not have afforded however many hundred dollars that gadget cost. But it was cool!

The Ellison Index

Leslie Kay Swigart had been an active LASFS member of the era right before I joined the club, which is one reason Bruce Pelz had a copy of her magnum opus, Harlan Ellison: A Bibliographical Checklist. The 1973 first edition was printed by Williams Publishing of Dallas and I don’t know if that was a publishing house or just a printer. In any event, he showed off his copy during one of the card games at his place. The intricate cover by Leo & Diane Dillon made it look awesome. (Gosh, did I just write awesome?) And bearing in mind that Harlan Ellison in 1973 was at the pinnacle of his popularity, it’s understandable why Bruce’s offer to sell us copies was irresistible. You can’t read what you don’t even know exists, and in those pre-internet days Swigart’s checklist was the simplest way of discovering everything our hero had written.

Team Banzai headband

In 1984, Twentieth Century Fox hired a crew to travel around the country promoting The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension at conventions. They were the only source for the Team Banzai headband. The over-the-top title and the movie’s implicit coolness struck the right note with fans, which made the headbands popular. A few did wear them as headbands, others as armbands or thighbands, or tied to some piece of fannish paraphernalia.

Glow-in-the-Dark Bid T-Shirt

Fans sure did like the glow-in-the-dark LA-in-90 bid t-shirt (the yellow shirt in this picture). It may have been the most appealing thing about our bid. I’ll bet plenty of fans were wearing these shirts while happily marking their ballots for Holland.

Heinlein Blood Donor Pin

Robert Heinlein suffered two years of extensive illnesses and received many pints of his rare blood type in transfusions. He was determined to pay-it-forward, publicizing the National Rare Blood club and blood donation generally. Fans organized a blood drive at the 1976 Worldcon, MidAmericon, where he was guest of honor and Heinlein said he would only sign autographs for people who donated blood. Part of the package deal was a RAH blood donor pin (commissioned by the LASFS) and copies of his “Are You A Rare Blood” offprint which many of us had him autograph.

Commemorative Heinlein blood drives continue at conventions to this day, and unlike some of the other cool things mentioned in this article you can still get a donor pin.

Bradbury’s FBI File

Ray Bradbury was actively investigated by the FBI during the 1960s after several Hollywood informants reported some of his political statements to the Bureau reports the Huffington Post, which has obtained copies of the files through a FOIA request.

Bradbury aroused the suspicion of the FBI due to his outspoken criticism of the U.S. government and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was investigating real and suspected communists in America. In a full-page ad in Variety, Bradbury had denounced the committee’s probes as “claptrap and nonsense” and several informants in Hollywood also voiced their suspicions about the acclaimed writer to the bureau.

Among the FBI’s findings was that Bradbury had been arrested by the LAPD during World War II for violating the Selective Service and Training act. He would later be ruled ineligible for military service due to bad eyesight. But this makes for an interesting sidebar to Bradbury’s story that he volunteered for Red Cross work during the war because Robert Heinlein was angry that he didn’t try harder to enlist.

[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]

Presiding Over an Alien Invasion

When pollsters asked if Obama or Romney is better suited to handle an alien invasion my answer was – none of the above! That’s when you should call in the pros!

The right question is: Which President of SFWA would you pick to handle an alien invasion?

Here are your candidates:

SFWA Presidents

In order to defend the planet the president first must recognize an alien invasion is in progress. That’s pretty easy when they land on top of us – see War of the Worlds.

But if their arrival isn’t heralded by a barrage of “shock & awe” weapons? If they seem like friendly guys? SFWA founder Damon Knight warns against sneaky alien diplomacy in “To Serve Man.” An alien race comes to Earth and supplies humanity with cheap unlimited power plus lots of other goodies. It all seems good until someone discovers that the alien manual titled “To Serve Man” is a cookbook.

Even better is having advance warning that they’re coming, as in Robert Silverberg’s Nightwings, where the Watchers use their mental capabilities to scrutinize distant stars.

And if they dare show up, it’s best if we kick their butts, a specialty of Gordon R. Dickson’s Dorsai, whose advanced training and superior tactics can defeat larger forces and spare casulaties. Or if you think we should give them a sporting handicap, there’s Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade where humanity defeats an alien invasion with the same weapons available at Agincourt.

When aliens and humanity are more evenly matched, Jerry Pournelle, co-author (with Larry Niven) of Footfall, knows not to let aliens throw rocks at us.

Or (heaven forbid!) humanity gets its butt kicked, Alan E. Nourse’s theory in “The Link” was that the last couple will survive by singing music to their alien conquerors.

Jack Williamson, once the Dean of science fiction, wrote The Legion of Space. Serialized in 1934, it was very popular at the time and, if considered exclusively for its plot, makes Williamson a strong candidate. His Musketeers of the future, Jay Kalam, Hal Samdu, John Ulnar and Falstaffian Giles Habibula, defeat all comers tentacled and otherwise.

Greg Bear’s novels about “The Way” involve far more than a mere alien invasion, although there is a war fought using remote slaved munitions carrier vehicles.

Barbara Hambly, in her Star Trek novel Ishmael, enlists Spock and the characters from the cult favorite Here Come The Brides tv series to thwart an alien invasion. Now there’s innovative thinking.

You might say John Scalzi would be the best socially-networked freedom fighter since Buckaroo Banzai. And his Old Man’s War re-equips its human warriors with an array of biological and technical improvements.

That’s just a sampling of the qualifying works these SFWA presidents have on file.

Considering their stories, which one do you think should be in charge of our defenses when aliens attack?

Muse Wanted

Chicon 7 has me on two programs and your advice is solicited.

The first is a Worldcon history panel —

Best of Bidding
Discussion of the best (and worst?) Worldcon bid groups, and the factors that helped determine whether they won or lost.

What notorious bid campaigns do you think should be mentioned?

The second panel honors the memory of people in our community who have passed away since last year.

Science Fiction In Memoriam
A remembrance of authors, fans, artists, and actors who the science fiction community has lost since we last convened at Renovation.

What five people most deserve to be at the top of our agenda? (Search File 770’s “In Passing” category for ideas.)

Stu Shiffman Update 8/27/12

After nearly two weeks in a North Seattle skilled nursing facility Stu Shiffman had graduated to showering (with lifts and special chairs). However, while in the shower on August 27 he appeared to have a seizure.

Doctors transferred him back to the Harborview emergency room. As his Caring Bridge journal explains, “that’s the hospital that has his previous surgeon, and… Harborview can handle this kind of neurological complication much better.”

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away August 25 at the age of 82. He died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

Many of us were watching when he stepped onto the lunar surface and declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

A few weeks later, St. Louiscon, the 1969 Worldcon, awarded Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins a Special Committee Award for “The Best Moon Landing Ever.” (I wasn’t in fandom yet, but some of you File 770 readers were there.)

And his moon walk was indirectly recognized as a Hugo-worthy performance when the  Apollo 11 television coverage won the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo in 1970.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

The Mashed-Up Future of Novels

China Miéville speaking in a debate at the Edinburgh international book festival about the future of the novel, called anti-piracy measures for literature in the digital age “disingenuous, hypocritical, ineffectual” and “artistically philistine.”

According to the Guardian he looks forward to open texts:

“Anyone who wants to shove their hands into a book and grub about in its innards, add to and subtract from it, and pass it on, will … be able to do so without much difficulty.”

But Ewan Morrison, author of Tales from the Mall, called Miéville’s vision of the future “naive, and based on what I would call dot-communism, which is a spurious leftism based on collectivity, that we are all heading towards a world where information will be shared”.

Countering another argument, that writers couldn’t make a living in such a world, Miéville called for a uniform, blanket salary for writers, novelists and poets equivalent to the “wage of a skilled worker.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]